Back to contents
Number 12: Summer 2016

Anxiety as Authenticity in the Face of Our Being-Towards-Death

Haya Oakley

The Obsessional 

Obsessionals might be the most painfully difficult group of patients in one sense and yet the most fascinating one in terms of the sheer tenacity of the unchanging narrative, coupled with the severity of the symptoms and the aesthetics of the structure. After all, it was the repetition compulsion which led Freud to ‘discover’ the death drive. In complete contrast to the hysteric, the average obsessional patient could be said to be looking death in the face all the time and in a somewhat transfixed manner, whilst at the same time refusing to accept the basic principle of the human condition. In other words, how could it be possibly true that we live towards our death always and right now? If this was the case, surely, everyone would be tearing their hair out in a panic, but they are not doing so which means that there must be a way to get around this and some people have found it. What I must do, therefore, is put my life on hold until such a time that I can find it myself. And whilst my life is on hold, Death cannot reach me because I am not really alive and, in as much as I must do something to literally stay alive on the level of sheer existence, I must design a form of existence which is minimalist. I must keep all my options open, never make a choice no matter how big or trivial the issue is, because not only does a potential die with each choice I make but, because I am yet to work out what it is that triggers death, every switch, however innocuous, might be the one, so I am not touching any.

Life will start one day, in the future and, in the meantime, time is not ticking for me and the Angel of death cannot find me as I am yet to appear on any life register. Obsessionals come to analysis because, unlike the rest of us who have comforted ourselves with the ‘we all die one day but not now’, they suffer from the pressures of the world which treats them as if they were alive and are constantly disturbed by their denied time-clock ticking in their ear.

The best way I can describe being with my most severely obsessional patients in relation to this is that I am acutely aware of the fact that, just like with any other patient, I will be fifty minutes older at the end of the session, it is fifty minutes of my life which like all other fifty minutes are unique and will never ever be relived, but the patient does not age with me. His fifty minutes do not count, they were just a dress rehearsal for the real thing; his card has not been punched in the great factory of lived experience.

The Psychotic 

A chronic schizophrenic patient once asked me: ‘They say that Princess Diana is dead, did you see her dead?’ Unable to use the storage of repressed fantasies to embroider a veil over the gap which death represents, having no body and no subjectivity, the schizophrenic is caught between the constant preoccupation with the concreteness of death where suicide in its most extreme forms and homicide masquerade as one another, and the simple inability to ‘believe in’ death as the supposedly dead appear all around them. One could say that for psychotic subjects, death is both concrete and meaningless and that they make up in the imaginary what they cannot symbolise. In Heideggerian terms, they appear unable to engage in the ‘everybody dies one day’ as their everybody is completely full and yet empty at the same time, in the same way that the transferential field they are in is both full and empty and whilst it may change shape, it is never ever dissolved.